I'm no artist.
As a matter of fact, I've been told by a startling number of art teachers through that I don't have an artistic bone in my body.
Whenever I have tried to paint it looks like someone had the runs on canvas: paint splattered here and there, with the final result looking nothing like what I had intended.
My amateur attempts at art provides an excellent microcosm for our federal government.
For too long we have splattered the original masterpiece the founding fathers created virtually ex nihilo with the sloshing paint of excess laws, cumbersome regulations and social engineering schemes.
Despite the best intentions, the seminal work of art that is our governmental and economic structure has been distorted beyond recognition.
No single group, person or political party is at fault for this – it was the collective effort of generations.
In order to see how much we've changed, just look at Thomas Jefferson's first inaugural address. The vision of government was "a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."
Now contrast that with President Obama's first inaugural address.
The role of government he envisioned "helps families find jobs at a decent wage, (medical) care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified."
Over the course of 44 presidencies, our government has evolved from one that performs basic legal and administrative functions to one that places the burden of economic success on our elected officials, and playing a parental role to society.
This sort of dependence on the state is a slippery slope – no matter which way you cut it.
Anyone who has taken an economics course has learned that increased government leads to increased intervention in the market, and increased market interference more often than not leads to behavioral distortions which in turn lead to a deadweight loss on society.
This matters to the average student here at our great university because guidelines for addressing market failures lead to a more efficient government – and in turn better lives.
Last week I addressed why market failures exist, but how should we go about addressing those failures?
Don't get me wrong. I believe in a minimum social safety net and consumer protection laws. Before there is intervention, however, there must be undeniable proof that market failure exists and that the market is failing in practice.
Market failure can result from externalities, monopoly power, informational asymmetry or the nature of public goods.
The health care industry is a prime example of both externalities and informational asymmetry. Prices vary from hospital to hospital and the actions and lifestyles of others affect the prices you pay.
For example, as more individuals seek treatment for medical conditions caused by obesity, the cost of other medical treatment increases. You have no say in how another person takes care of their body; but the treatment for their preventable conditions is reflected in the increased cost of all medical care and based purely on supply and demand.
The Affordable Care Act – which attempts to address the problems of increased medical and insurance costs – is causing incredible uncertainty in the business world and increased costs to consumers.
Which leads us to our next conundrum: can government intervention realistically, and in a cost-effective manner, solve the problem in such a way that the benefits outweigh the costs?
A study by Northwestern's Craig Garthwaite examines employment and subsidized insurance here in Tennessee. It predicts that the subsidies will prompt 940,000 workers to leave the labor force. Putting this into perspective, we must decide if this potential cost is worth the potential payoffs of the legislation.
Based off these criteria – and the fact that other externalities are addressed by social cohesion – we have an ideal metric by which to measure the need for government intervention. A dangerous fallacy is the assumption that if we do not address every market failure, then the problem will go unsolved.
But as we strive to implement a more efficient government, think of our task as one similar to the great sculptors of the past. Rather than a blank canvas, we have a chunk of marble. The masterpiece already exists within it – we just need to chip away the excess portions to reveal the delicate beauty that has existed all along.
Adam Prosise is a senior in economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.